Report says nearly 1 in 10 schoolchildren face sexual misconduct
Academic report finds nearly 1 in 10 affected
WASHINGTON -- More than 4.5 million students endure sexual misconduct by employees at their schools, from inappropriate jokes to forced sex, according to a report to Congress.
The best estimate available shows nearly one in 10 children faces misbehavior ranging from unprofessional to criminal sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade, says the report by Charol Shakeshaft, a Hofstra University professor.
''Most people just don't think this can really happen," said Shakeshaft, hired by the Education Department to study the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools. ''We imagine that all teachers are like most teachers, in that they've gone into teaching to help children. Most do, but not all."
The report, required by the No Child Left Behind law and delivered to Congress yesterday, is the first to analyze research about sexual misconduct at schools.
Some educators took issue with the way the report combines sexual abuse with other behaviors, such as inappropriate jokes, in one broad category of sexual misconduct.
''Lumping harassment together with serious sexual misconduct does more harm than good by creating unjustified alarm and undermining confidence in public schools," said Michael Pons, spokesman for the National Education Association, a union of 2.7 million school employees. ''Statistically, public schools remain one of the safest places for children to be."
But the American Association of University Women, whose surveys of students were at the core of the report, stood by its research.
And Robert Shoop, a Kansas State University professor of education law and a specialist on the problem of sexual exploitation in schools, said the estimate that one in 10 children endures abuse is not high. The actual number may be larger, he said, because of underreporting of the problem.
There have been no nationally financed surveys of how common sexual misconduct is in school, one of many areas Shakeshaft suggests must be addressed. She examined existing research, finding almost 900 documents that have dealt with the topic in some way.
Among those, the best estimate of misconduct came from surveys in 2000 of students in grades eight to 11, Shakeshaft said. That research, commissioned by the AAUW Educational Foundation, found nearly 9.6 percent of students had been sexually harassed or abused by school workers.